America's Test Kitchen Founder Christopher Kimball shares some recipes for Thanksgiving. Read six recipes from oven braised turkey to skillet apple pie.
Roast turkey is the norm today, but early American cookbooks often recommended another cooking method. We wondered if maybe they knew something worth learning.
By Andrew Janjigian
Roast turkey has become synonymous with Thanksgiving, but many early American cookbook authors actually advocated a very different method: cooking the whole bird (or its parts) in liquid in a covered pot set over an open fire. Braising, after all, would have been uniquely suited to the tough wild fowl put on the table in those days, as hours of simmering would have broken down the dark meat’s chewy connective tissue and turned it meltingly tender. But it’s also a terrific way to cook today’s mass-produced domestic turkey. Since the temperature in the pot can never rise above the boiling point of water (212 degrees), the method is inherently gentle, minimizing the risk of drying out the breast. On top of that, simmering the pieces in broth creates a flavor exchange between the meat and the liquid, giving the turkey a flavor boost and producing a rich, ready-made gravy. (The only trade-off I could think of might be less-than-crisp skin, but it was a compromise I was willing to make for supremely tender, juicy meat.) Braising parts instead of a whole bird makes the situation even more advantageous, providing extra insurance that the white and the dark meat cook at a more even rate.
But I knew that a successful recipe would require more than just sticking some parts in broth, covering them up, and placing the whole thing in the oven. Contrary to what you might expect, simmering meat in liquid is no guarantee of juiciness. In fact, if cooked too long or at the wrong temperature, braised meat can dry out just as readily as roasted meat. The trick would be to find the optimal cooking time and oven temperature and just the right ingredients to add deeper complexity to the meat.
Braising the Stakes
Turkey parts are readily available at the supermarket, so I wouldn’t have to bother with any butchering myself. I assembled enough bone-in, skin-on breasts, drumsticks, and thighs to total around 10 pounds per batch—enough to feed a crowd of 10 to 12.
Before I figured out the nitty-gritty of what would go in the braising liquid, I wanted to get the basics of the cooking method down. First, I arranged the parts skin side up in a roasting pan. (The traditional vessel for braising—a covered casserole or Dutch oven—was out, as all the parts would never fit in one layer.) I added about 5 cups of chicken broth—just enough to come about three-quarters of the way up the sides of the thighs. Then I covered the pan tightly with aluminum foil.
The oven temperature was a more complicated matter. The curious thing about braising is that despite the fact that the meat is sitting in liquid, it never actually absorbs moisture. On the contrary, once its muscle fibers reach around 140 degrees, they begin to contract and wring out juices. But when the meat in the pot has a lot of collagen, this shriveling reaction is mitigated by a second reaction: Between 160 and 180 degrees, the collagen rapidly dissolves into gelatin, which then holds on to some of the juices squeezed from the muscle fibers. If enough collagen dissolves, it lends something akin to juiciness to the meat. The challenge in braising turkey, however, is that the dark meat has a good bit of collagen while the breast meat has almost none. In other words, I had a timing issue on my hands: I’d need to keep the thighs above the minimum temperature for dissolving collagen long enough for most of it to turn into gelatin—but not so long that the breast dried out.
Playing it safe, I dialed the oven temperature to a very gentle 275 degrees and put the turkey parts in. Without the insulating effect of the backbone and the breast, the thighs and drumsticks came up to their ideal temperature of 175 degrees at the same time that the breast reached its ideal 160 degrees: about four hours later. Both types of meat were very tender and juicy. Even the outermost layers of the breast were moist and succulent—an almost impossible feat when roasting. Still, as good as the turkey tasted, monopolizing the oven for four hours during the holidays was something I wanted to avoid.
Wondering what would happen if I took the opposite tack and cranked the heat a lot higher, I prepped a new batch of turkey parts and braised them in a 400-degree oven. That got things moving for sure—it took barely more than an hour for the meat to come up to temperature—but the results were markedly inferior. Though the center of the breast was still juicy, the outer layers were dried out and the thighs, while moist, were tough. The higher heat was obviously to blame. Because the liquid was going at a rapid boil, the cooking time sped up and, as a result, the collagen in the thighs didn’t have a chance to sufficiently break down. And despite the fact that the temperature inside the covered roasting pan was limited to 212 degrees, it was still hot enough to dry out the exterior of the breast. When I checked, I found that the meat just below the surface of the breast had climbed a good 20 degrees higher than its center.
The compromise solution was 325 degrees. At this temperature, braising took a reasonable two hours, during which time the collagen in the thighs still had a chance to break down into gelatin, while the breast meat remained relatively moist. Still, I couldn’t get the super-juiciness of the low-and-slow-cooked batch out of my head—and I knew that meant introducing brining into the equation. I’d been avoiding the extra step until now but was well aware of its benefits: Salt in a brine solution denatures the meat’s proteins, making them better able to hold on to their moisture. It also thoroughly seasons meat. Per our usual approach, I also amped up the flavor of the solution by stirring in some sugar. Finally, both the breast and the dark meat were super juicy and tender.
Now that the meat was perfect, it was time to address the turkey’s sallow skin. I had no expectations, of course, that truly crisp skin was in the cards, but some browning was a must. Not only would it improve the look of the skin, but it would also add flavor that would make its way into the braising liquid. Searing the pieces in the oven before adding the liquid would be the most efficient method, so I cranked the heat to 500 degrees, brushed another batch of turkey parts with melted butter, and roasted them until they were lightly tanned. That took about 20 minutes, after which I poured the chicken broth into the pan and returned the meat to a 325-degree oven. Some of the color washed away during the long braise, but the rich, roasted flavor that it added to the broth made for a worthy compromise.
I wasn’t finished yet: The braising liquid still needed some tweaking. I started by swapping out 1 cup of the chicken broth for white wine—a -classic trick for adding bright sweetness to a pan sauce. To further round out the flavor, I tossed chopped onions, celery, carrots, and garlic with melted butter and arranged them in the pan before placing the parts on top, browning the whole lot in a hot oven for about 20 minutes. The flavor was much improved—but I did even better by adding pepper, bay leaves, thyme, parsley, and a handful of ultra-savory dried porcini mushrooms to the aromatics before browning them. Best of all, as the flavors of the braising liquid improved, so did the flavor of the turkey itself.
All that remained was to turn this rich braising liquid into gravy. Once the turkey was cooked, I let the parts rest while I skimmed the liquid and used some of the flavorful fat to produce a golden roux. Then I whisked in a few cups of the liquid and let the mixture simmer until it thickened into glossy gravy.
With its juicy, rich meat and sumptuous gravy, braised turkey is worth celebrating. An approach so good—and so tailor-made for turkey—should be as much the stuff of legend as the roasted bird.
Braised Turkey with gravy
Serves 10 to 12
Instead of drumsticks and thighs, you may use 2 whole leg quarters, 1½ to 2 pounds each. The recipe will also work with turkey breast alone; in step 1, reduce the salt and sugar to ½ cup each and the water to 4 quarts. If you are braising kosher or self-basting turkey parts, skip the brining step and instead season the turkey parts with 1½ teaspoons of salt.
Salt and pepper
1 cup sugar
1 (5- to 7-pound) whole bone-in turkey breast, trimmed
4 pounds turkey drumsticks and thighs, trimmed
3 onions, chopped
3 celery ribs, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
6 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
2 bay leaves
6 sprigs fresh thyme
6 sprigs fresh parsley
1/2 ounce dried porcini mushrooms, rinsed
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup dry white wine
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Salt and pepper
1. FOR THE TURKEY: Dissolve 1 cup salt and sugar in 2 gallons cold water in large container. Submerge turkey pieces in brine, cover, and refrigerate for 3 to 6 hours.
2. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 500 degrees. Remove turkey from brine and pat dry with paper towels. Toss onions, celery, carrots, garlic, bay leaves, thyme, parsley, porcini, and 2 tablespoons butter in large roasting pan; arrange in even layer. Brush turkey pieces with remaining 2 tablespoons butter and season with pepper. Place turkey pieces, skin side up, over vegetables, leaving at least ¼ inch between pieces. Roast until skin is lightly browned, about 20 minutes.
3. Remove pan from oven and reduce temperature to 325 degrees. Pour broth and wine around turkey pieces (it should come about three-quarters of way up legs and thighs). Place 12 by 16-inch piece of parchment paper over turkey pieces. Cover roasting pan tightly with aluminum foil. Return covered roasting pan to oven and cook until breasts register 160 degrees and thighs register 175 degrees, 1¾ to 2¼ hours. Transfer turkey to carving board, tent loosely with foil, and let rest for 20 minutes.
4. FOR THE GRAVY: Strain vegetables and liquid from roasting pan through fine-mesh strainer set in large bowl. Press solids with back of spatula to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard vegetables. Transfer liquid to fat separator; allow to settle, 5 minutes. Reserve 3 tablespoons fat and measure out 3 cups braising liquid (reserve any remaining broth for another use).
5. Heat reserved fat in medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add flour and cook, stirring constantly, until flour is dark golden brown and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Whisk in 3 cups braising liquid and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until gravy is thick and reduced to 2 cups, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove gravy from heat and season with salt and pepper to taste.
6. Carve turkey and serve, passing gravy separately.
Reinventing Bread Stuffing
Stuffing baked in a dish usually lacks any turkey flavor. What could we do to bring an inside-the-bird taste to stuffing cooked outside it?
By David Pazmiño
Stuffing fans generally fall into two camps: those who favor the crusty version baked in a dish, and those who love their stuffing cooked in the turkey’s cavity, where it can absorb the bird’s flavorful juices. I envy the households where the plentiful baking-dish version is in high demand. At my house, everyone wants a helping of the ultra-savory, super-moist -stuffing from inside the bird, but there’s never enough to go around. This year I was determined to revamp the stuffing cooked outside the bird to give it the rich flavor and soft texture of stuffing from the turkey cavity. Then everyone who loved this style could come back for seconds, even thirds.
I would start with the easy stuff: nailing down a basic recipe. The usual suspects in stuffing are canned chicken broth, celery and onion cooked in butter, eggs, fresh herbs—I chose time-honored thyme and sage—and, of course, dried cubes of bread. Many recipes call for drying the bread cubes by simply leaving them out for a few days. I already knew this was not an option. As bread stales at room temperature, its starch molecules undergo a process called retrogradation, causing it to become hard but not necessarily dry. Instead, I would “stale” the bread cubes in a 200-degree oven for an hour. This method actually removes moisture, ultimately leading to a drier structure that allows the bread to soak up more liquid for a better-tasting stuffing.
Normally, stuffing can be made with anything from cornbread to artisanal loaves, French baguettes, or Italian bread. But I wondered if one would prove better than another for achieving the moist texture I was shooting for. I didn’t want to fool with -making cornbread or hunting down a good ready-made batch, so I rounded up the other three candidates, along with sliced sandwich bread. I cut each bread into cubes and staled them in the oven. I was right to be concerned about the style of bread: Baguettes had too high a ratio of crust to interior, leading to a chewy stuffing. The super-fine crumb of Italian loaves became overly soggy and blown out, while artisanal breads like ciabatta were simply too tough. The best choice turned out to be ordinary, easy-to-find sandwich bread, which baked up soft but still retained some shape.
It was time to get on with my real goal: infusing the dressing with meaty turkey flavor. Ground sausage is a great way to impart an extra meaty dimension to stuffing, so what about simply adding ground turkey to the recipe? I browned 1 pound in a -skillet, -combined it with the other stuffing ingredients, threw everything in a baking dish, and put the whole thing in the oven. This got me nowhere. Unlike ground sausage, which, when added to stuffing, brings to the mix lots of flavorful fat and often herbs and spices, ground turkey is both relatively lean and bland. All it did was produce lumps of -none-too-flavorful meat amid the bread cubes.
Next, I flirted with the idea of swapping the canned broth with a rich homemade turkey stock that I could reduce for extra intensity. That fantasy lasted about a minute as I tried to imagine myself tending to a pot of stock, all the while juggling the dozens of other things I needed to get done for the big feast. There had to be an easier way to -re-create the rich fatty juices that trickle down inside the bird. Then it occurred to me: I could actually get that same trickle-down effect by covering the stuffing in the baking dish with turkey parts—in essence, creating a makeshift turkey cavity.
First I tried meaty turkey legs and thighs, which had the obvious advantage of exuding lots of flavorful juices (and fat). These proved a bit cumbersome, so I turned to turkey wings. To get every last bit of turkey juice and fat to render, I split the wings into sections and poked holes in the skin with a paring knife. I arranged the perforated wing pieces on the stuffing and baked it in a moderate oven—375 degrees—for an hour, until the wings reached a safe 175 degrees. I was on to something. The flavorful juice and fat from the roasted wings had penetrated deep into the stuffing. The only problem? The top layer had dried out in the oven.
The next time around, I covered the wings and stuffing with foil. This kept the stuffing moist, but the wings didn’t get a chance to brown. Without all the new flavor compounds created by browning, the stuffing didn’t have the richness I had noted in my previous attempt. If I wanted browning, the only other option was to sear the wings before placing them on the stuffing. I was happy to find that the 3 pounds of wings I’d been using fit into a skillet in one batch. After searing, I removed them, then sautéed the aromatics and added the chicken broth. Another benefit of this approach was that I could scrape up the flavorful fond that had built up on the bottom of the pan and incorporate it into the savory liquid. I combined the liquid with the aromatics and the bread, along with eggs and more chicken broth (to augment the juices from the wings), then placed the mixture in a baking dish, arranging the seared wings atop the stuffing. I covered the dish with foil, and to prevent the bottom of the stuffing from becoming crusty, I placed the baking dish on a baking sheet, which offered some protection against the oven’s heat.
A little over an hour later, I had moist, tender stuffing that certainly looked the part—and my tasters declared it to be as rich and savory as any inside-the-bird stuffing they’d sampled. Stuffing this good shouldn’t be reserved for the holidays, I thought, so I tested my new recipe using chicken wings, which unlike turkey wings are easy to find year-round. Since chicken wings are less fatty and meaty than turkey wings, I discovered that I needed to increase the amount of chicken broth and decrease cooking time to get comparable results.
With so much turkey flavor, the stuffing needed little else besides a handful of chopped parsley. But I also wanted to create a few variations that were a bit more dressed-up and complex, and offered some textural contrast. A version made with sausage, tart dried cherries, and toasted pecans won over my tasters, as did another, made with bacon, sautéed apples, and leeks.
Ultra-moist, full of turkey flavor, and in a quantity that allowed my guests to have multiple helpings, these stuffings clearly showed that they didn’t need to be stuffed at all.
Bread Stuffing with Sausage, Dried Cherries, and Pecans
Serves 10 to 12
NOTE: Two pounds of chicken wings can be substituted for the turkey wings. If using chicken wings, separate them into 2 sections (it’s not necessary to separate the tips) and poke each segment 4 or 5 times. Also, increase the amount of broth to 3 cups, reduce the amount of butter to 2 tablespoons, and cook the stuffing for only 60 minutes (the wings should register over 175 degrees at the end of cooking). Use the meat from the cooked wings to make salad or soup.
2 pounds (20 to 22 slices) hearty white sandwich bread, cut into ½-inch cubes (about 16 cups)
3 pounds turkey wings, divided at joints
(see photo) (see note)
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1 pound bulk pork sausage
4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter, plus extra for baking dish
1 large onion, chopped fine (about 1½ cups)
3 celery ribs, chopped fine (about 1½ cups)
2 teaspoons table salt
2 tablespoons minced fresh thyme leaves
2 tablespoons minced fresh sage leaves
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
2½ cups low-sodium chicken broth
3 large eggs
1 cup dried cherries
1 cup pecan halves, toasted and chopped fine
1. Adjust oven racks to upper-middle and lower-middle positions and heat oven to 250 degrees. Spread bread cubes in even layer on 2 rimmed baking sheets. Bake until edges have dried but centers are slightly moist (cubes should yield to pressure), 45 to 60 minutes, stirring several times during baking. (Bread can be toasted up to 1 day in advance.) Transfer to large bowl and increase oven temperature to 375 degrees.
2. Use tip of paring knife to poke 10 to 15 holes in each wing segment. Heat oil in 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until it begins to shimmer. Add wings in single layer and cook until golden brown, 4 to 6 minutes. Flip wings and continue to cook until golden brown on second side, 4 to 6 minutes longer. Transfer wings to medium bowl and set aside.
3. Return skillet to medium-high heat and add sausage; cook, breaking sausage into ½-inch pieces with wooden spoon, until browned, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer sausage to paper towel–lined plate, leaving rendered fat in skillet.
4. Heat butter with rendered fat in skillet over medium heat. When foaming subsides, add onion, celery, and ½ teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened but not browned, 7 to 9 minutes. Add thyme, sage, and pepper; cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add 1 cup broth and bring to simmer, using wooden spoon to scrape browned bits from bottom of pan. Add vegetable mixture to bowl with dried bread and toss to combine.
5. Grease 13 by 9-inch baking dish with butter. In medium bowl, whisk eggs, remaining 1½ cups broth, remaining 1½ teaspoons salt, and any -accumulated juices from wings until combined. Add egg/broth mixture, cherries, pecans, and sausage to bread mixture and gently toss to combine; transfer to greased baking dish. Arrange wings on top of stuffing, cover tightly with aluminum foil, and place baking dish on rimmed baking sheet.
6. Bake on lower-middle rack until thickest part of wings registers 175 degrees on instant-read thermometer, 60 to 75 minutes. Remove foil and transfer wings to dinner plate to reserve for another use. Using fork, gently fluff stuffing. Let rest 5 minutes before serving.
Bread Stuffing with Leeks, Bacon, and Apple
Follow recipe for Bread Stuffing with Sausage, Dried Cherries, and Pecans, substituting ¾ pound bacon, cut into ½-inch pieces, for sausage. In step 3, cook bacon in skillet until crisp, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer bacon to paper towel–lined plate and pour off all but 2 tablespoons bacon fat. Proceed with recipe from step 4, substituting 2 leeks (white and light-green parts halved lengthwise, washed, and sliced thin) for onion, 3 Granny Smith apples (peeled and cut into ¼-inch dice) for dried cherries, and omitting pecans.
Bread Stuffing with Fresh Herbs
Follow recipe for Bread Stuffing with Sausage, Dried Cherries, and Pecans, omitting sausage. After browned turkey wings have been removed from skillet in step 2, add 6 tablespoons butter to skillet and proceed with recipe from step 4, substituting 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves for dried cherries and pecans.
Mashed Butternut Squash
Winter squash is often wet and stringy. Was this dish a hopeless cause?
By Nick Iverson
Squash is good for you, sure, but based on the handful of recipes I tested as Thanksgiving neared, it just isn’t good. I’d picked the recipes to represent a range of approaches, cutting up the butternut squash variously and either baking, roasting, steaming, or boiling before mashing it to a rustic puree. Alas, after we tasted the different preparations, the same words kept coming up: soupy, fibrous, washed out.
On the positive side, these tests did reveal that how I cut the squash was critical. Squash that I cooked whole or halved saved work on the front end but exacerbated the stringiness. Once the squash was cooked, no matter how vigorously I mashed, it proved impossible to cut through the tough fibers. By cubing the raw squash, though, I could cut through the fibers, making them vanish into the finished dish. As for cooking method, roasting at high heat evaporated extra moisture; plus, it concentrated the squash’s flavor and sweetness.
Most recipes I found were quite sweet, but in my initial test, our favorite recipe called for onions and garlic. I sweated chopped onion in butter on the stove and then tossed in a range of spices, eventually settling on cumin, cinnamon, and coriander for their warm notes and cayenne for background heat. After the spices and garlic “bloomed” briefly, I added the roasted squash and mashed the mix. Despite the spices, the dish tasted oddly flat. I brainstormed harvest ingredients and flavors, eventually landing on shredded Granny Smith apples. They perked up the squash and added a fruity sweetness, which I underlined with maple syrup.
Now the mash was neither stringy nor soupy, and its flavor was almost mysterious. Eating it, you might not be able to identify the add-ins, but you could name their effect: delicious.
Mashed Butternut Squash
Cutting the squash into uniform chunks ensures even cooking.
4 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch pieces (10 cups)
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
Salt and pepper
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled and shredded (2 cups)
1 onion, chopped fine
1 garlic clove, minced
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground coriander
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 tablespoons maple syrup
1. Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat oven to 425 degrees. Line rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Combine squash, oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper in bowl. Spread squash in even layer on prepared sheet. Roast until tender and starting to brown, 40 to 50 minutes, rotating sheet halfway through roasting.
2. Meanwhile, melt butter in Dutch oven over medium-low heat. Add apples, onion, and ¼ teaspoon salt and cook, covered, until apples are soft, about 5 minutes. Uncover and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until apples and onion are golden brown, 5 to 7 minutes longer. Add garlic, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, and cayenne and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Remove from heat, cover, and set aside while squash finishes roasting.
3. Add squash and maple syrup to pot. Mash with potato masher until mostly smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve.
Really Good Roasted Brussels Sprouts
What would it take to create tender, nutty-tasting Brussels sprouts in just one pan?
By Andrea Geary
Brussels sprouts are in dire need of a new publicist. The first order of business should be to get the word out that this vegetable doesn’t have to taste overly bitter or sulfurous. Like other members of the crucifer family (which also includes broccoli, cabbage, and mustard greens), Brussels sprouts are rich in flavor precursors that react with the vegetable’s enzymes to produce pungent new compounds when the sprouts are cut, cooked, and even eaten. But when the sprouts are handled just right, this pungency takes on a nutty sweetness.
The problem is, achieving perfect results is usually a two-part process. To ensure that the interiors of this dense vegetable get sufficiently tender, the sprouts are first blanched or steamed, followed by roasting or pan-searing. The latter process lightly crisps the outer leaves and creates the nice browning that mellows the sprouts’ bitter kick. But when Brussels sprouts are part of a holiday feast, this two-step approach is a little too fussy. Could I get the results I wanted using just one step?
I decided to skip the pan-searing, since one batch in a 12-inch skillet barely makes enough for four people, and I wanted my sprouts to feed a crowd. Roasting seemed like a better technique to play with.
I rounded up a little over 2 pounds of sprouts—enough for six to eight people—looking for same-size specimens about 1½ inches long. With parcooking ruled out, the obvious first step was to halve the sprouts, which would help ensure that they cooked through and would create a flat surface for browning. I then tossed them in a bowl with a bit of olive oil, salt, and pepper.
To maximize browning and to jump-start cooking, we often preheat the baking sheet before roasting vegetables. I did precisely this, placing the sprouts cut side down on the hot sheet, which I then put back in a 500-degree oven. But when I pulled the vegetables out 20 minutes later, they were dry, chewy, and even burnt in spots on the outside, while practically crunchy on the inside. Starting with a cool baking sheet didn’t help matters, and turning down the heat merely meant that it took a little longer for the sprouts to reach the same unsatisfactory state.
To prevent the outer leaves from drying out too much before the center achieved the ideal tender-firm texture, it seemed clear that I needed to introduce moisture into the equation. I wondered if just covering the sprouts with aluminum foil as they roasted would trap enough steam to do the trick. Once again, I arranged the sprouts cut side down on the baking sheet, but this time I covered the pan tightly with foil before placing it in the oven. After 10 minutes, I removed the foil so that the slightly softened sprouts could brown and get just a little crisp. After 10 minutes more, the Brussels sprouts were perfectly browned on the outside. And undercooked on the inside. And a bit dry and chewy all around.
I reluctantly considered lowering the oven -temperature—but that would almost certainly increase the cooking time, and I wanted a side dish that would be done when my turkey finished resting. The solution was as simple as tossing the sprouts with a tablespoon of water along with the oil and seasonings before I put them in the oven. Covered in foil, each halved sprout acted like its own little steam chamber, holding on to a tiny bit of water to finish cooking its interior even as its outside began to brown. The results were perfect: tender, sweet insides and caramelized exteriors.
Now that I’d made perfectly cooked Brussels sprouts in one easy step, I devised some quick variations. They could show off their image makeover not just during the holidays, but all year long.
Roasted Brussels Sprouts
Serves 6 to 8
If you are buying loose Brussels sprouts, select those that are about 1½ inches long. Quarter Brussels sprouts longer than 2½ inches; don’t cut sprouts shorter than 1 inch.
2¼ pounds Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon water
Salt and pepper
1. Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat oven to 500 degrees. Toss Brussels sprouts, oil, water, ¾ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper in large bowl until sprouts are coated. Transfer sprouts to rimmed baking sheet and arrange so cut sides are facing down.
2. Cover sheet tightly with aluminum foil and roast for 10 minutes. Remove foil and continue to cook until Brussels sprouts are well browned and tender, 10 to 12 minutes longer. Transfer to serving platter, season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve.
Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Garlic, red pepper Flakes, and Parmesan
While Brussels sprouts roast, heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in 8-inch skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add 2 minced garlic cloves and ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes; cook until garlic is golden and fragrant, about 1 minute. Remove from heat. After transferring sprouts to platter, toss with garlic oil and season with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle with ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese before serving.
Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Pecans
While Brussels sprouts roast, cook 4 slices bacon in 10-inch skillet over medium heat until crisp, 7 to 10 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer bacon to paper towel–lined plate and reserve 1 tablespoon bacon fat. Finely chop bacon. After transferring sprouts to platter, toss with 2 tablespoons olive oil, reserved bacon fat, chopped bacon, and ½ cup finely chopped toasted pecans. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve.
Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Walnuts and Lemon
Transfer roasted Brussels sprouts to platter and toss with 3 tablespoons melted unsalted butter, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, and 1/3 cup finely chopped toasted walnuts. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve.
Skillet Apple Pie
Why this recipe works
Apple pandowdy harks back to Colonial-era New England—the dessert takes a more rustic approach to apple pie in that it features just one pastry crust, placed on top of a lightly sweetened apple filling. During or after baking, the pastry is broken and pushed into the filling—a technique known as “dowdying.” We found the idea of an easier approach to apple pie very appealing—no fussy crimping and only one piece of pastry dough to roll out—so we set out to make our own version.
Caramelize the Apples: Parcooking the apples in a skillet until caramelized before adding the other ingredients helps to deepen their flavor.
Enrich the Filling with Cider and Maple: For a juicy apple filling with bright fruit flavor, we add cider to the apples and sweeten them with maple syrup, both of which make for a pleasantly saucy filling.
Score the Crust: We cut a standard pie crust into squares after rolling it over the fruit right in the skillet—this -encourages a multitude of crisp edges that contrast nicely with the tender fruit and recalls (in a less dowdy way) the broken-up crusts of a -traditional pandowdy.
Bake Quickly: Our precooked apples need less time in the oven, so we transfer our skillet pie to a hot oven and bake for just 20 minutes—less than half the time of a -traditional apple pie.
Skillet Apple Pie
Serves 6 to 8
If your skillet is not ovensafe, precook the apples and stir in the cider mixture as instructed, then transfer the apples to a 13 by 9‑inch baking dish. Roll out the dough to a 13 by 9‑inch rectangle and cut the crust and bake as instructed. If you do not have apple cider, reduced apple juice may be used as a substitute; simmer 1 cup apple juice in a small saucepan over medium heat until reduced to 1/2 cup, about 10 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature with vanilla ice cream. Use a combination of sweet, crisp apples such as Golden Delicious and firm, tart apples such as Cortland or Empire.
1 cup (5 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons vegetable shortening, chilled
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/4‑inch pieces and chilled
3–4 tablespoons ice water
1/2 cup apple cider
1/3 cup maple syrup
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
21/2 pounds apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2‑inch-thick wedges
1 large egg white, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons sugar
1. For the crust: Pulse flour, sugar, and salt in food processor until combined, about 4 pulses. Add shortening and pulse until mixture resembles coarse sand, about 10 pulses. Sprinkle butter pieces over top and pulse until mixture is pale yellow and resembles coarse crumbs, with butter bits no larger than small peas, about 10 pulses. Transfer mixture to medium bowl.
2. Sprinkle 3 tablespoons ice water over mixture. With rubber spatula, use folding motion to mix, pressing down on dough until dough is slightly tacky and sticks together, adding up to 1 tablespoon more ice water if dough does not come together. Flatten dough into 4‑inch disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 2 days. Let sit at room temperature for 15 minutes before rolling.
3. For the filling: Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat oven to 500 degrees. Whisk cider, maple syrup, lemon juice, cornstarch, and cinnamon, if using, together in bowl until smooth. Melt butter in 12‑inch ovensafe skillet over medium-high heat. Add apples and cook, stirring 2 or 3 times, until apples begin to caramelize, about 5 minutes. (Do not fully cook apples.) Off heat, add cider mixture and gently stir until apples are well coated. Set aside to cool slightly.
4. Roll dough out on lightly floured counter to 11‑inch round. Roll dough loosely around rolling pin and unroll over apple filling. Brush dough with egg white and sprinkle with sugar. With sharp knife, gently cut dough into 6 pieces by making 1 vertical cut followed by 2 evenly spaced horizontal cuts (perpendicular to first cut). Bake until apples are tender and crust is deep golden brown, about 20 minutes, rotating skillet halfway through baking. Let cool about 15 minutes; serve warm.
Revisiting Pumpkin Pie
The best thing about pumpkin pie is that you only have to eat it once a year. If any Thanksgiving tradition deserves a fresh approach, it’s this one.
By Francisco J. Robert
Serving pumpkin pie at Thanks giving is an exercise in futility. After a rich, filling repast, the last part of the ritual appears, problematic as ever: grainy, canned-pumpkin custard encased in a soggy crust. If pumpkin pie is so important that it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without it, why not make it a first-class finish to the meal? Our recipe from 15 years ago was good, but not everything it could have been (lately we’ve found it overspiced and dense). Could we turn this classic holiday dessert into more than an obligatory endnote for already-sated guests?
Pumping Up Pumpkin Flavor
All too often, pumpkin pie does a poor job of showcasing the flavor of its star ingredient. But I knew better than to think the answer was to use fresh pumpkin. In numerous tests, we’ve found that very few tasters can distinguish between fresh and canned pumpkin once it’s baked in a pie—and cooking a fresh pumpkin is a whole lot of work. The real problem is that pumpkin, fresh or canned, contains a lot of moisture, which ultimately dilutes the pie’s flavor. This point was driven home when I wrapped the contents of a can of pumpkin puree in cheesecloth and left it overnight in a colander to drain. By the next morning, the pumpkin had released copious amounts of liquid. Out of curiosity, I tasted a spoonful of the liquid and was surprised to find it had an intense flavor. To maximize flavor, it made sense to concentrate the pumpkin’s liquid rather than just remove it.
I took a cue from our 1993 recipe, in which we found cooking the pumpkin on the stovetop to be beneficial. I emptied a can of puree into a saucepan along with some sugar and spices, then cranked up the heat. I whisked in some dairy and eggs and poured the filling into a prebaked shell of Foolproof Pie Dough (November/December 2007). Cooking the pumpkin not only improved its flavor, but the hot filling also allowed the custard to firm up quickly in the oven, preventing it from soaking into the crust and turning it soggy. But I wasn’t done: Tasters still complained about an overabundance of spices.
Now that I had great flavor, did I even need the spices? My tasters unanimously agreed that a small amount complemented the pumpkin, singling out nutmeg, cinnamon, and ginger as their favorites and rejecting pungent clove (which also gave the pie a dirty brown appearance). Substituting a couple of teaspoons of freshly grated ginger for the dry equivalent was a hit, imparting a bright, almost fruity flavor to the pie. Cooking the ginger and spices along with the pumpkin puree intensified their taste—the direct heat bloomed their flavors. I also experimented with a number of different sweeteners, including honey, maple syrup, and brown sugar. On their own, maple syrup and honey were overpowering; brown sugar resulted in a grainier texture and a too-distinct flavor. In the end, tasters favored a combination of white sugar and a small amount of maple syrup, which added a layer of complexity. But not enough complexity—tasters still craved a more flavorful pie.
On a whim, I borrowed a few roasted sweet potatoes that a colleague was testing for a side dish and mashed them into my pumpkin mixture without telling anyone. Tasters immediately recognized a new and deeper flavor in the pie. I had hit on a secret ingredient! But I didn’t really want to take the time to roast the sweet potatoes for this effect. Would it work just as well to microwave them? I tried this, and my tasters liked this pie just as much. Could I streamline the method even further and use canned sweet potatoes? I drained the sugar syrup from a can of sweet potatoes (commonly labeled yams) and cooked them with the canned pumpkin. Once again, my tasters loved the pie and never guessed the true source of the flavor.
The Search for a Silky Texture
With richly flavored filling at hand, it was time to tackle the texture. My goal was to eliminate the graininess that plagues most custard for a creamy, sliceable, not-too-dense pie. To achieve this, I first played with the type of dairy and quantity of eggs. Whole milk yielded a looser pie than one made with cream, but tasters found the latter too rich. Using equal amounts of whole milk and cream provided balance. But this filling was barely sliceable, and using extra whole eggs to firm it up just made the pie taste too eggy. Since the white contains most of the water in an egg, I replaced a few of the whole eggs with yolks to firm up the custard, settling on a ratio of 3 whole eggs to 2 yolks. I then whisked the milk, cream, and eggs with some vanilla into the cooked pumpkin–sweet potato mixture and passed the filling through a fine-mesh strainer to remove any stringy bits, ensuring a smooth texture.
Most pumpkin pie recipes call for a high oven temperature to expedite cooking time. But baking any custard at high heat has its dangers. Once the temperature of custard rises above 175 degrees it curdles, turning the filling coarse and grainy. This is exactly what happened when I baked the pie at 425 degrees, the temperature recommended by most recipes. Lowering the temperature to 350 degrees wasn’t the solution: I now had a pie that curdled and overcooked at the outer edges but was still underdone in the center. I tried the opposite extreme—baking the pie at 300 degrees, a temperature that would give me a wide margin of safety. The problem was that for the pie to cook through, I needed to leave it in the oven for nearly two hours. What if I combined both approaches: a high initial oven temperature for 15 minutes to give the already-warm filling a blast of heat, followed by a gentle 300 degrees for the remainder of the baking time? Not only did this reduce the total baking time to less than an hour, the dual temperatures produced a creamy pie fully and evenly cooked from edge to center.
Months of testing and hundreds of pies later, I had finally created a pumpkin pie destined to be a new classic: velvety smooth, packed with pumpkin flavor, and redolent of just enough fragrant spices. This year I’ll see if anyone can turn down a slice—even after the heavy meal.
Makes one 9-inch Pie
If candied yams are unavailable, regular canned yams can be substituted. The best way to judge doneness is with an instant-read thermometer. The center 2 inches of the pie should look firm but jiggle slightly. The pie finishes cooking with residual heat; to ensure that the filling sets, cool it at room temperature and not in the refrigerator. To ensure accurate cooking times and a crisp crust, the filling should be added to the prebaked crust when both the crust and filling are warm. Serve at room temperature with whipped cream. Vodka is essential to the texture of the crust and imparts no flavor; do not substitute.
1 1/4 cups (61/4 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1 tablespoon sugar
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch slices
1/4 cup cold vegetable shortening, cut into 2 pieces
2 tablespoons cold vodka (see note)
2 tablespoons cold water
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
3 large eggs plus 2 large yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin puree
1 cup drained candied yams from 15-ounce can (see note)
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup maple syrup
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon table salt
1. For the crust: Process 3/4 cup flour, salt, and sugar in food processor until combined, about two 1-second pulses. Add butter and shortening and process until homogenous dough just starts to collect in uneven clumps, about 10 seconds; dough will resemble cottage cheese curds with some very small pieces of butter remaining, but there should be no uncoated flour. Scrape bowl with rubber spatula and redistribute dough evenly around processor blade. Add remaining 1/2 cup flour and pulse until mixture is evenly distributed around bowl and mass of dough has been broken up, 4 to 6 quick pulses. Empty mixture into medium bowl.
2. Sprinkle vodka and water over mixture. With rubber spatula, use folding motion to mix, pressing down on dough until dough is slightly tacky and sticks together. Flatten dough into 4-inch disk. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate at least 45 minutes or up to 2 days.
3. Adjust oven rack to lowest position, place rimmed baking sheet on rack, and heat oven to 400 degrees. Remove dough from refrigerator and roll out on generously floured (up to 1/4 cup) work surface to 12-inch circle about 1/8 inch thick. Roll dough loosely around rolling pin and unroll into pie plate, leaving at least 1-inch overhang on each side. Working around circumference, ease dough into plate by gently lifting edge of dough with one hand while pressing into plate bottom with other hand. Refrigerate 15 minutes.
4. Trim overhang to 1/2 inch beyond lip of pie plate. Fold overhang under itself; folded edge should be flush with edge of pie plate. Using thumb and forefinger, flute edge of dough. Refrigerate dough-lined plate until firm, about 15 minutes.
5. Remove pie pan from refrigerator, line crust with foil, and fill with pie weights or pennies. Bake on rimmed baking sheet 15 minutes. Remove foil and weights, rotate plate, and bake 5 to 10 additional minutes until crust is golden brown and crisp. Remove pie plate and baking sheet from oven.
6. For the filling: While pie shell is baking, whisk cream, milk, eggs, yolks, and vanilla together in medium bowl. Combine pumpkin puree, yams, sugar, maple syrup, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt in large heavy-bottomed saucepan; bring to sputtering simmer over medium heat, 5 to 7 minutes. Continue to simmer pumpkin mixture, stirring constantly and mashing yams against sides of pot, until thick and shiny, 10 to 15 minutes.
7. Remove pan from heat and whisk in cream mixture until fully incorporated. Strain mixture through fine-mesh strainer set over medium bowl, using back of ladle or spatula to press solids through strainer. Rewhisk mixture and transfer to warm prebaked pie shell. Return pie plate with baking sheet to oven and bake pie for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 300 degrees and continue baking until edges of pie are set (instant-read thermometer inserted in center registers 175 degrees), 20 to 35 minutes longer. Transfer pie to wire rack and cool to room temperature, 2 to 3 hours. Cut into wedges and serve.